4 THE CHANGING WORLD OF TAX HAVENS

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In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need this book. Life is not so, but

the good news is that there are many interesting aspects of going

offshore, and many benefits to gain.

There are also some pitfalls to avoid, and these can be circumvented

by knowing what to look out for, and applying yourself and

your knowledge to the challenge.

The world of tax havens has changed since its earliest beginnings,

around the time the first tax dollar (or drachma, etc.) was collected.

And, as the concept of safe havens from taxes has evolved and received

more attention, more people have recognized the advantages.

So, over time, the havens have become a threat to the emerging firstworld

nations and their greedy hunger for tax revenue.

Interestingly, as the big powers have pressured offshore venues

into becoming more transparent, many now call themselves “International

Financial Centers” (IFCs), instead of offshore financial centers

or tax havens. And other first-world powers like Switzerland and Austria

are not pure tax havens as we know them, but are important banking

centers and safe and stable havens for money and assets. Aha!

And anyway, taxes should be only one of the many good reasons

for going offshore.

The two oldest tax havens in the world are Liechtenstein and

Panama, each dating back to the 1920s, and both have been two of my

favorite tax havens for years. In fact, both are still at the top of my list.

The real development in tax havens got underway in the 1960s and

1970s, when tax haven legislation in these countries was still light but

was quickly evolving under the fire of the venues and their individual

self-governments. In the 1980s, foreign governments and international

agencies started applying real pressure, which they then increased throughout the 1990s in the hope of legislating these jurisdictions off

the planet. However, many tax havens weathered the turmoil well, a

few simply became more determined not to be bullied, and a handful

of these stand today as some of the best choices.

A few once important havens, like the Bahamas and the Cayman

Islands, were hit the hardest. In the case of the Bahamas, this former

headliner among tax havens can today no longer be considered even

useful as it has allowed itself to be gutted by the influence of its huge

and powerful neighbor, the United States. And anyway, there are too

many other better places to go.

The individual country profiles in this book provide complete information

on the status of each important tax haven available in these

interesting times. I have profiled only the most significant ones.

Places not mentioned (e.g., Nauru in the Central Pacific), do not register

on my radar screen for very good reasons and are not worth further

discussion. This applies to any other tax havens that are not

included, with the exception of some extraordinarily unique places

that might be useful under special circumstances, but would serve little

purpose for most readers.

But to return to the historical perspective, let’s look at the concept

of owning your own offshore bank. As an example of the lack of

internal legislation as recently as the 1960s and early 1970s, you could

still obtain an offshore banking license to start your own bank—a

topic and practice that is practically taboo today. In some tax havens,

you needed simply to provide some basic information about yourself

as the applicant, pay the fee for a local lawyer, cough up the nominal

government license fee, and voilà, you were in the banking business!

A couple thousand dollars could swing it. I know, because I have been

a student of tax havens since the earliest of those heydays. Today, the

requirements for conducting offshore banking are much stricter and

are better enforced for the sake of the depositors and the general wellbeing

of all.

Even the most casual observer knows that the subject of offshore

is, and always has been, a hot topic. When I wrote my first book on the

subject (Tax Havens, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992), people I came

into contact with would still ask, “What is an offshore bank?” And

they weren’t sure if Vanuatu was a real country, or just a scam. Times

have changed immensely in just the past 15 years. With rapid developments

in the world today and the war on tax avoidance—a tactic that,

as mentioned, has always been accepted as legal—imagine what the prospects will look like in another decade if people don’t exercise

their rights and freedoms while they still have the options. Tax havens

are in part an interesting reflection of a rapidly changing world.

The key to benefiting from these changes is to recognize the excellent

choices and opportunities that still exist and capitalize on

them while they last. By acting now, a person can be more prepared,

and more secure, for an unknown future. The opportunities today

may not be viable alternatives tomorrow. Of course, the future may be

even better, but who knows for sure? The question should really be,

are we willing to speculate with everything we have and wait until it’s

too late? Remember, if you use tax havens correctly, you have nothing

to lose and much to gain.